In aerospace, replacement of aluminum parts with lightweight materials such as titanium could be the next big innovation in aircraft manufacturing. Titanium is a lightweight material, but a challenge to process. However, Mississauga’s Cyclone Manufacturing Inc. is well positioned to take full advantage, thanks to NRC-IRAP R&D advice and networking.
Cyclone has been building aircraft components for more than 50 years, and for most of that time, aluminum was the material of choice. But recently, upon request from many global aircraft manufacturers to integrate more lightweight parts, Cyclone invested heavily in titanium processing after collaborating with NRC-IRAP.
“As a result of a need for more fuel-efficient aircraft, OEMs (Original equipment manufacturers) and their suppliers have been struggling with an increased demand for hard, difficult-to-machine materials – most notably titanium,” said Buz Forbes, Cyclone’s controller.
Stronger, more flexible, corrosion-resistant and heat tolerant, titanium aircraft parts will be used much more over the next three years, say forecasters – lowering fuel costs and greenhouse gas emissions as a result. Because of these benefits, Forbes predicted that demand for titanium parts is quickly expected to outpace the supply chain’s capacity. The challenge with titanium, though, is that it’s very difficult to machine. Conventional drill bits last all of 15 minutes before breaking.
Enter NRC-IRAP Industrial Technology Advisor Ramesh Gupta. “Ramesh was kind enough to spend time with us in explaining the concepts and what kinds of projects would qualify,” said Forbes. In mid-2014, Cyclone and NRC-IRAP began a project aimed at finding the most efficient ways to machine the metal.
“We met numerous times over the course of many months, and I helped them put together an extensive design of experiment for the titanium project,” said Gupta. “While mentoring them, we eventually completed a strong technical and long term business plan for their ‘Optimization of titanium material removal rates’ project. In the end, Cyclone was successful in securing NRC-IRAP funding.”
Gupta’s business and technical assessment soon bore fruit. As the results trickled in from the experiments, Cyclone was able to confidently buy numerous machines – some costing $500,000 to $1 million. Significant investments, but ones Cyclone was prepared to make, thanks to NRC-IRAP’s R&D assistance.
“Cyclone also benefitted in having access to patent and research paper searches through NRC-IRAP, enabling us to determine ‘freedom to operate,’ and helping us to choose our project direction,” added Forbes.
Cyclone: the perfect storm of success
An additional win came after Gupta introduced Cyclone to FedDev Ontario, an economic development agency for the province. Following several meetings over many months where Gupta provided advice and support, Cyclone qualified for an interest-free loan of $8 million, which will be used to increase production, to add 80,000 square feet of manufacturing space, and to hire 135 staff. Federal Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains announced the loan on behalf of FedDev Ontario in a ceremony at Cyclone on Dec. 21, 2015.
Now poised as one of a handful of aerospace manufacturers able to work capably with titanium, Forbes said Cyclone will likely gain a higher share of the traditional aluminum parts market. “OEMs are trending towards consolidating suppliers,” he explained. “Suppliers with established expertise in titanium might be awarded aluminum component business as well. Inversely, without titanium machining capability, there’s the potential of losing aluminum machining business.” It’s a double win for Cyclone, said the firm’s CEO Andrew Sochaj. “The future of the company is quite good,” he said. “We have many contracts for new jets. I see growth of 20 per cent a year for the next five, and with customers all over: the UK, Austria, France, Japan, Taiwan, China, Brazil, the U.S. and Canada. We’re making components for all four major aerospace companies, including Bombardier, Boeing, Airbus and Embraer.
“Whatever aircraft you’re flying, Cyclone is making its components.”